Google Shakes UP Local…And We’re Still Feeling the Aftershocks

Google LocalWell, this month saw the most activity in Google local search than we’ve seen in a very long time.  The crazy thing is, it just keeps being crazy.  There’s a lot of movement going on the search results and Google keeps changing whether people are seeing local packs in the universal results.  People have even seen some searches where the local carousel has been removed and the images from the carousel are showing up in the local packs…when they show the local packs at all.  So, it seems Google is still working through the details.

I’ll tell you everything that we know about this Google Local update so far and how it may affect you in this month’s SEO Update video.  I’ll also tell you about some new developments at Bing and FourSquare.  The video is a little longer than normal, but that’s because there’s a lot to talk about related to the Google local update.

(Update: Some of the recent comments coming out of Google indicate there may be a new Penguin update soon.  I’ll keep you informed as this develops.)

Full Transcript:

Hi, I’m Kurt Steinbrueck with and this is your monthly SEO update, keeping you informed on what’s going on in the search engines. And there’s quite a bit going on this month, so we have a lot to talk about. I’m going to try to get to all these points, and especially Google has a major update that I’m going to tell you about in just a minute.


Site Safety Page:
But first, we’re going to start with Bing. Bing has a few features I wanted to let you know about. The first is that they have a new Site Safety page within their webmaster tools so that when they find issues on sites, as they’re constantly going around and crawling sites, they’re finding issues – they find errors, they find especially malicious scripts and things like that that could be troubling or could cause issues for people trying to get to your site – they now have a Site Safety page that will tell you what’s going on. What did they find, where did they find it, when did they find it, so that you can take care of those issues.

They’re trying to provide as much information as they can with that so that you can resolve the issue quickly, which is a nice thing to see, because I know when I’ve dealt with Google before, you kind of get these warnings sometimes like “Hey, we found a problem on your site.” That’s all they tell you, and you’re like, “Okay, would you like to tell me what the problem is? I don’t know where to start.” So here, they’re trying to give more information so that you can actually take care of those issues, which is a nice little change.

Conversational Search:
Another thing that we see is that they are working on their conversational search. Conversional search is when you search for something and then you follow up that search with something else; the search engine assumes that you’re probably referring to the same topic, and so it can use the previous question to better understand the second one.

Let’s say for example you did a search for an actor, maybe Harrison Ford. So you search “Harrison Ford,” and then after that you follow it up with “When was he born.” Well, that phrase “when was he born” is kind of hard for a search engine to understand, because who’s “he”? That could be anybody, so they’re trying to figure out what that means. Now, the search engine is able to say, “Well, you were just asking about Harrison Ford; you’re probably talking about Harrison Ford with this,” and so they’ll give you Harrison Ford’s birthday.

That’s the kind of conversational concept. Just like if you’re having a conversation with a person, I would understand if you said, “Hey, let’s talk about Harrison Ford. When was he born?”, that those two things are together. They’re being able to do that now, too. Which Google can also do, actually, so this is a little bit of catch-up that Bing is playing with Google. But it’s a neat little feature that they’re doing, trying to make it a little easier to understand the searches.

Bing’s Cortana adds FourSquare:
One more thing about Bing is that if you have a Microsoft phone and you have Cortana, which is their version of Siri, they have now connected with Foursquare so that they can showcase local recommendations as you are in a location. And this can actually be done automatically, without you even having to ask for that information.

Let’s say that you’re in a town and you’re trying to find a place to eat. You can say, “Show me restaurants in this town”; they’re trying to be able to give you those things, even maybe before you even ask that. “Hey, you’re in the town? Why don’t you check out these locations. These are good recommendations.”


Now, speaking of Foursquare, Foursquare has been making a lot of changes too. Foursquare has kind of split off themselves; they kind of split their organization, and so now they still have the search and the mapping stuff and they have the social, but now they’ve kind of created two, and they’re really focusing on the social.

They’re trying to create this social network really focusing on local things and being able to understand what’s exciting in the area and what kind of recommendations do people have, and also really be able to personalize those results. So they’re trying to learn who you are and who do you like and whose recommendations do you tend to follow, whose tastes do you have similarities with, so that they can put all that together to be able to give you the recommendations of places that you might want to go.

Let’s say that you’re in a town and you look for that restaurant. You say, “Okay, I want a restaurant in X town.” What Foursquare is going to do now is say “Okay, here’s the things that we know about you. We know that you tend to like Mexican and Italian food, so we’re probably going to put Mexican and Italian restaurants towards the top. And then we also know that you tend to follow the recommendations of these friends of yours, and they have recommended this particular Italian restaurant quite a bit, so we’re going to put that at the very top.”

So now as you look at this, you get this result and you’re saying, “Okay, I like these types of restaurants, and look, I have three friends who recommended this place right here. It’s the very top. That’s the place I’m going to go.” It makes that decision probably a lot easier, just because they understand what your tastes are, they understand who you tend to have similar tastes with and be able to incorporate all that together.

But they’re just getting that going; they’re trying to build up that understanding at this point. They’ve got some new apps for your phone, so if you like Foursquare, go ahead and check that out. Make sure you update the new apps and go from there.


Local Shake-Up:
Now, Google. Google is the big news here. So basically, what happened? Google updated their local algorithm is what happened. This is probably one of their first changes in I think over a year at this point with the local algorithm. They made a major update to that algorithm that’s changed quite a bit. So we’re going to go into what some of those changes are.

1. Using New Signals:
One of the things is that they are now trying to connect the Local results more with the same signals that they use for their regular results. If you search for something in Google, just any old thing, they’re looking at what kind of links are pointing to sites, what are the sites about, just tons of signals. Site speed and lots of other things.

Now they’re saying, “We didn’t always look at Local results the same way, but now we’re going to try to incorporate that stuff into Local a bit more.” They’re still going to keep the Local signals – distance and ratings and reviews and things like that – but they’re also trying to incorporate these other signals in there, too. So we’re going to see some moving around because of that.

2. Connecting to Knowledge Graph:
They also are connecting more with Knowledge Graph and spelling updates and things like that, so you might see more Knowledge Graph results in there, which might be interesting.

3. Refined Distance:
But more important than that is that they have really refined their understanding of distance within the new algorithm. What you’re going to find, what we’ve seen is that a lot of the city areas have narrowed, or at least the initial results that Google will return has narrowed. So if you’re on the outskirts of a town, you’re going to find it a lot harder to be able to rank well for searches within your town. That’s just kind of the reality of it. It was always a little difficult, but now it’s a little bit more so. Now, you should still be able to deal with that with ratings and reviews and things like that. That should be able to push you up quite a bit, but it is just a little bit more steep of a mountain to climb at this point.

4. Including Neighborhoods:
But one of the other changes that they have been working on is to include more neighborhoods within the search results as well. Basically what they did is they found, “You know, we have a lot of cities that are really big, so to just return results from that city isn’t necessarily helpful.”

Take my situation, for example. I live in the Tampa area. Tampa has a couple million people, and I think that it’s somewhere around 20 square miles or something like that. It’s a pretty big city. It’s not New York or anything, but it’s a pretty big city. If I am up in the northeast corner of Tampa and I do a search for something, I’m not looking for something that’s down in the southwest corner, because that’s going to be a good 30, 45 minute drive for me. I’d rather find something that’s close to me.

What Google is doing to be able to deal with this is saying, “Okay, there are neighborhoods within these larger cities. There are these regions that people understand within these cities, that we’re going to start having those neighborhoods kind of act the same way cities do.” So now I can search for things in New Tampa, which is just a region of Tampa, and get results for that instead of just searching “Tampa.” So it gives me more narrowed results and things like that.

So if you are on the outskirts of town, you really need to be looking at the neighborhoods that you’re around, because that might be a way to be able to get into more people’s search results, by optimizing for those neighborhoods.

It’s also their way of dealing with the fact that yeah, just because you’re five miles from the center of the town, doesn’t mean that you’re any less relevant than something that’s right in the middle of the town. In fact, you may be a better result. So they’re trying to deal with that.

5. Local Packs Shifting:
Another change that we’ve seen is in what’s called the Local Packs. There’s 3 Packs, 7 Packs, 10 Packs, things like that. What these are, are if you search for something local, but within – so you go to – not the Maps, but actual – and you search for “restaurants near St. Louis” or something like that, that’s a local search but within their regular search results. They return what they call universal search, which has a lot of different types of results in it.

The way it would work is you’d see certain results that are like their normal Google results, but then there’d be this section that is separated, and it has the Local search results in it, or at least some of them, maybe three or seven or even ten of those Local search results. So that’s a Local Pack, and usually there’s a map that’s over on the one side as well that goes with that.

What we’ve seen is that there has been a lot of shifting in what keywords are actually returning those Local Packs. There’s a lot of keywords that were showing them that aren’t anymore. I think some of the studies I’ve seen showed about a 25% decrease in the number of keywords that were showing it. Now, at the same time, there’s also some keywords that are now showing the Local Packs that weren’t, so it’s not totally just a removal. But overall, the net result is a pretty big reduction. So that’s one of the changes that we’ve seen.

Another is when people see those, which is to say that if I’m searching from a city outside of a location – let’s use that St. Louis search – if I’m searching from Tampa about restaurants in St. Louis, they’re going to show me results that probably don’t have that Local Pack in it. But if I do that same search while I’m in St. Louis, then I’ll probably see the Local Pack in there.

So they’re looking at IP addresses and they’re saying, “You’re outside of town,” and for whatever reason, they’ve decided that the Local Pack doesn’t necessarily need to be in there for someone who’s out of town. They’re only going to show the regular results. But if you’re in town, then they think that the Local Pack is more relevant. I’m not sure I understand their reasoning for that, but that’s the decision that they made. I guess maybe they feel like you aren’t going to make an immediate trip there; you don’t need to see the map and things like that. I don’t know. So that’s one of the differences: you may see differences about your results depending on where people are searching for you.

6. No Duplication:
Then lastly, related to those Local Packs is that they worked to remove a lot of the duplication. Before, you might be able to have shown up both in their regular results and in the Local Pack. Now, most of the time, you’re not going to. So on that first page of results, you may have been able to actually have two listings before; now it’s really hard to be able to get that. Those are usually on very non-competitive terms in a local area that’s usually pretty small that you’ll start to see some of those duplicate results. But for the larger areas, it’s going to be really hard to see that kind of stuff. And that’s just an algorithm thing; it’s not something that you can even overcome. They’re trying to have less duplication, and so that’s just where they’re going with that.

7. More Local Listing Sites:
The last thing I’ll mention with this update is that there’s been quite a boost for the local review, local listing sites in their regular results. Searching for restaurants in St. Louis – we’ll just keep using that example – you’re probably going to see a lot more things like Yelp and Insider pages, Mojopages and things like that, as opposed to the actual restaurants for the town.

You can see this in a lot of the different searches. I did an article about this awhile back and actually showed some of those examples. So you’re seeing less of the actual organizations that you’re searching for, and more of these local listing sites. That means it’s really important that you are getting those local listings, and it’s really important that you’re showing up in them so that Google can then be finding you through those local listings and putting you in their results.

Or, if they’re just returning the results for an entire category, you want to still be in that local website’s category. So if someone searches for “restaurants in St. Louis” and they bring Yelp’s Restaurant category, you want to make sure that you’re showing up in Yelp’s Restaurant category so that you’re showing up in front of those searchers.

That is a big update – probably the biggest update that we’ve seen in Local search, certainly for their algorithm, in over a year at this point. The last big update was when they switched to the new map system, which happened several months ago, but that didn’t change the algorithm.

Anyways, these are the things that are going on in the search engines. And remember…

This is the internet age, so it’s important that you stay strong in the search engines so that you can achieve your goals and mission online. And hey, we’re here to help you do that.

God bless!

Share Your Thoughts:

  • What changes have you noticed in the Google local search results?
  • Do you use FourSquare?  If so, what do you think of the changes they are making?

2 Responses to “Google Shakes UP Local…And We’re Still Feeling the Aftershocks”

  1. The Google up gradation always ends up shaking the locals. The Google search result is now showing a great variety of links and they are continuously updating their searches. This is good because now the other websites are also getting their turn to be at the first page.

  2. Thanks for the great post. I’m a big fan of your writing style.